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Ed Colby
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By: Ed Colby

There’s A Time For Everything

I used to dream that I was in college again, with finals approaching, and it would hit me that I’d signed up for classes that I forgot about and never attended. I’d get this sense of impending doom.

Sometimes I forget about my two hives at 8,400 feet on the Colorado Flat Tops. But it’s not a dream.

These colonies tested zero for mites in September. I wanted to see if they could successfully overwinter under the snow. There are no other bees in the vicinity. The only Varroa mites are ones I bring up there with my bees. So if they can survive up there year-round, I won’t have to worry about them loading up on mites from neighboring hives, like my Flat Tops bees sometimes do when I bring them back to civilization for the Winter. This is only an experiment. If it works, maybe I can select for even more year-round high altitude colonies that can resist mites with no chemical treatments. I wintered these two in three deep supers, dead-heavy with honey. At least they won’t starve.

The gal Marilyn and I slogged in on skis to pay them a visit in February. We had one of the lowest snow years on record, but there was still 30 inches on the ground. I dug the solar electric bear fence charger out from under an inverted bucket under the snow. It still popped, even though the woven wire fence around the bees lay half-buried under the snow. I heaped snow around the hives for extra insulation, and we headed for home.

So far, so good. I figured I’d come back every two weeks or so to monitor the situation. The last thing I need is for my battery to go dead and a Spring bear to rip everything apart. I can’t get a truck in there until May.

It’s April 10 as I write. Our bees-and-skis visit was over two months ago, and I haven’t been back since. Marilyn just said to me, “I wonder how the bees are doing up there.  Do you think the snow’s melted? ”

I said, “I have no idea.” And that’s the truth.

Things get a little hectic this time of year. My bees that pollinated the California almonds arrived home two weeks ago, and now some verge on starvation. Some need mite treatments. I just got off the phone with a California queen breeder. My first queen shipment arrives day after tomorrow. As soon as they get here, I’ll start making hive splits. Later today I pick up bees that pollinated apricots and sweet cherries in Palisade. The growers started spraying their peaches, so these bees need to come home now.

I’m working on my 2014 taxes. That’s not a misprint. If you get more than three years behind, and you have a refund coming, the government gets to keep it. So April 17 looms large for me. I hope you never let yourself get behind like I did.

This morning I got interviewed and filmed by a Colorado Mountain College photo journalism class.

The students were as cute as a litter of spotted puppies. They spent what seemed like hours setting up all their equipment. Then they put me in the spotlight and peppered me with questions. Their project involved talking to and filming a spectrum of beekeepers, from hobbyists to commercial. I fall somewhere in between. When one young woman wondered if I felt a “spiritual connection” to my bees, I said, “Well, I adore them and call them ‘my little darlings.’ Does that qualify as a spiritual connection?”

When asked my reaction to hobbyist beekeepers who blame all the ills of honey bees on their commercial brethren, I replied that some commercial beekeepers blame backyard beekeepers for the Varroa pandemic. It’s easy to point fingers. I told her that as president of the Colorado State Beekeepers Association, and as a matter of personal philosophy, I try to eschew name calling and radical positions and instead relentlessly pursue a middle path. 

I found these young people hopelessly enchanting. They reminded me of a time I often forget – when the world loomed fresh and clear, not yet smeared by hypocrisy and spite. It’s all in our point of view, don’t you see?

I almost spaced out the photography class.  I credit Divine Intervention for keeping me on track. It hit me like a bolt out of the blue. I said to Marilyn, “Uh-oh! CMC’s sending out a photo journalism class to interview me about bees, sometime in April. I wonder what day. I hope it wasn’t today! I’d better check my schedule.”

I came back a few minutes later. “No problem,” I said. “They’re coming tomorrow. I’ll just postpone my appointment to visit my billionaire client’s bees and host these fledgling photographers instead.”

“I thought you were going to Palisade tomorrow,” Marilyn said. “That’s in the afternoon,” I said.”This is in the morning.”

You see? I just need to juggle my schedule a little. And check it occasionally. There’s time for everything.

Ed Colby practices beekeeping in Aspen Mountain, Colorado, where he lives with his partner, Marilyn.